I don’t know what I expected when I sat down to watch Simon Amstell’s Carnage, a film I had heard described as a vegan mockumentary of sorts that kind of made fun of vegans but also inspired people to become one themselves.
As a vegetarian myself, I’m hyper sensitive to mockery of vegetarianism and veganism in the media (yes I know, the stereotypical sensitive vegetarian), but as I had heard that the creator was himself a vegan I was curious to see what the film was about and how it handled the topic. And I wasn’t disappointed. Also, by the end of it I felt like it was imperative that I immediately become a vegan and that I was a terrible, terrible person for eating cheese.
The film, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is set in 2067 in a future where eating animals is banned by law and the UK is wholly vegan. Children of the future, who spend their time frolicking in the woods wearing glittery makeup and having vegan picnics and polyamorous relationships, simply cannot contemplate a time in which it was the norm to eat meat, and the elderly are wracked with guilt over their carnivorous past.
It is framed as a documentary intended to educate the young of this vegan utopia about Britain’s meat eating past and the rise of veganism as well as give them greater understanding of the troubles of their grandparents. I personally love the mockumentary format, as I think it allows for razor sharp comedy as well as acute social observation. The film makes good use of it, intercutting mock serious interviews with fictional key members of the vegan movement with vox pops from supposed ordinary members of the public and real archival footage such as clips from television cookery shows, as well as horrifying footage from inside the meat and dairy industry. The combination of all of these elements serves to enhance both the hilarity as well as the horror of the ‘carnism’ on display (from a memorable interview given by the legendary vegan activist Troy King-Jones- “We are not vegans. They are carnists.”)
I found the film absolutely hilarious, in its darkly humorous critique of both the meat eating industry, such as the voiceover dryly asserting there were ‘different rules for celebrities’ when a famous and beloved pig is spared amidst the mass killing of animals during the swine flu epidemic, and its sly digs at the po-faced earnestness of the vegan movement. The real-life footage is also made all the more jarring and upsetting by its unexpectedness; sandwiched between a man angrily complaining about cacao into Google Glass and a group of people tearfully confessing the names of their favourite cheeses, seeing how milk is actually produced in graphic detail or even Nigella preparing a chicken on daytime television takes on new significance.
I feel like the film particularly impacted me, perhaps more than others, because so many of the facts were ones that I had come across before but had pushed to the back of my mind. I can nod along knowingly at the criticism of the meat industry, like the staggering volume of water it takes to maintain one cow compared to fields of plants, yet when it comes to the dairy industry I’m still as complicit as anyone else. Even as I laughed at the satire of the vegans, the elderly wracked with guilt comparable to that of former criminals and the theatrical protests, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sympathetic feeling.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, watch this film and if you’re not, watch it anyway. You’ll never look at an advert for Birdseye fish fingers the same way again.
Image Credits: Seeta Parmar